Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Feeling at Home

By Sam Cheney

I was anxious leading up to the taxi ride away from our cozy hotel to unknown location for a three day homestay. I didn’t know the people taking us home with them, I wasn’t sure if they were going to like me, or if I would offend them somehow with a rude gesture. When Thai, my host sister, arrived at the hotel, she was so perfectly nice and she spoke fluent English; I really didn’t expect that.

host family 2Expectations are funny things that can often lead to people jumping to conclusions or being upset when something doesn’t go their way. But it can also lead to new experiences and surprises that can take people somewhere they never expected.

“I never expected for my host family to have so much,” said Lauren, whom I shared a host family with. She went on to say that she didn’t know that they would have such a nice home. She also thought that they would have many different cultural practices that we would also have to take part in, but neither of us noticed those kinds of things.

Shannon and Saydrah HomestayWhen I got to my host family’s home, Thai led me through a gate where I would expect to find a front door, but I found out later this area was to accompany the family’s motorbikes because they can’t leave them outside and there is no garage. Their house had very high ceilings and banana trees in the back. They also had a pet rooster who crowed once every half hour.

Thai is a 22 year-old pharmacy student who spoke to us in fluent English. From the moment she picked us up she had such an enthusiasm about knowing about us and our culture. She lives with her parents who work at Can Tho University as accountants. Then she has a little sister, 9, and a cousin, 19, who was also going to the university. Her 80 year grandmother lived in the house as well. We would also see an 8 year old boy, who looked in our room occasionally who turned out to be their cousin.

“I ate a rat.” Cassie said, who lived in a different house but had many of the same experiences as Lauren and me except for that one. IMG_3588“I definitely tried it,” she shared. I think that is really all she wanted to say about it, and that she and her roommate Hannah overall enjoyed the cooking at their homestay.

Everyone’s food experiences were different. Some people got to go out to eat with their host families while others were made more traditional Vietnamese food at home. Our host family made us what we thought was similar to American food while incorporating a lot of fruits from Vietnam. On the first day Thai asked us what kinds of food we had liked while we had been in Vietnam and she also asked about what kinds of fruits we liked back home. Lauren and I both agreed it was apples. While staying at the homestay we were provided with both our favorite Vietnamese dish, Pho and apples. They definitely tried to help us feel at home.

The time that Lauren and I were there, we always felt like they wanted us to be there. They wanted to see photographs and hear us speak English. The younger children wanted us to help them with their homework and they tried, somewhat successfully, to teach us their way of playing dominoes.

Mara and Shanti Homestay“It was nice to see the family dynamic and that they are all just people. It’s nice to see that stuff crosses over cultures,” said Kelsey, who roomed with Kyla. They stayed with an older married couple who had adult children, but they still enjoyed poking fun at one another for being bossy. “You could tell they really loved each other,” Kelsie shared.

It was nice to see that so many students, including myself, really enjoyed the experience of being with a family. There is something about being in a country and getting to experience their norms, their large family, their hospitality and sometimes the strange quirks that come with every family. I thank Thai and her family so much for taking us in for a few days.

As Lauren and I were whisked away by Thai and her best friend on the back of a motorbike for the first and last time during our homestay, we weren’t anxious at all. We felt right at home.

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